When I contemplate parshat Behar, I think back to the time when I was first beginning my journey as a Ba'al Teshuva.
Moshe BurtMoshe Burt is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of the Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
Back then, in 1989, I had attended a few Aish HaTorah "Discovery" presentations, which spurred me on to contact the religious community in Northeast Philadelphia and begin to learn. Eventually, in the summer of 1990, a year or so later, I had become observant.
I remember how Aish HaTorah rabbonim would speak of the topic of Shemittah in presentations back in the "Old Country."
A question constantly raised during outreach shiurim is whether Halacha, the body of Torah law, was divinely conceived or was a creation of man. Did a group of learned scholars get together in one place and decide to create some laws, and somehow sell mankind on them as being for the collective good?
If one were to accept Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's "p'sak Halacha regarding Gaza, one might falsely deduce that the answer to the above question is "yes."
I have to ask, from where does our Defense Minister come by such vast knowledge of Torah as to attempt to give rabbinic p'sak as to what is or isn't part of Torah-defined historic Eretz Yisrael? Has he spent even one day, one hour, in a beit medrash? What are his scholarly sources? His scholarly CV? What Rishonim, Achronim or Tana'im (different generations of Torah scholarship) does he bring?
One would do well to re-read a recent article published on Israel National News.com by Professor Menachem Kovacs of Baltimore entitled "Gaza Israel: Our Halacha, Our History, Our Security are Tied to Gush Katif". Dr. Kovacs presents a concise, scholarly analysis of the Halachic and historic facts regarding Gush Katif being an integral part of historic, Biblical Eretz Yisrael.
Further, if one looks in the Chumash and Tanach, one finds them replete with references to Gaza, going back to our forefathers. The borders of Biblical Eretz Yisrael clearly contain Gaza within them. If one holds that there is a divine, infinite entity that controls every aspect of existence, one must recognize and accept that Gaza, that Gush Katif, is as much a part of our divine legacy as is Jerusalem, Hevron, Tsfat, Tel Aviv, Haifa or Beit Shemesh.
To reinforce the point, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, one of the Torah giants of our era, writes in his book Tzitz Eliezer, in volume 7, section 48, Chapter 12, that it is obvious that Aza (Gaza) is clearly a part of Eretz Yisrael. And Shemittah is kept in Aza no differently than it is kept throughout the rest of Eretz Yisrael.
The Shemittah and Yovel years are the ultimate, conclusive proof-positive of the existence of a Divine being, Hashem, who controls every aspect of the world.
Could any mortal man in his right mind and with a modicum of logic make the claim that if one refrains from tending the land in the seventh year, that there will be an abundance of crop in the sixth year to tide him over through the sixth and seventh years, until man is again permitted to plant, plow and tend his fields? What mortal man or men would create such a rule and make the statement that Hashem makes to B'nei Yisrael? If such a law was man-made and man followed it, he'd undoubtedly starve.
The attributes of the number seven "remind us that our souls are of a Divine, spiritual nature and that our goal is to return to our original state of spiritual rest." The Shemittah, the seventh year, is of a similar nature; the land is at rest and fallow. This acknowledges that all earthly possessions, our land, our homes, our money and even our personal freedom, are ultimately under Hashem's dominion.
Man should never "...be deluded into thinking that we really own and have full control over anything. After all, we can't take anything with us when we depart from this world. Whatever we own is given to us as a temporary possession, to utilize for the utmost good.
"Ultimately, Man comes to the realization that his sustenance must arrive from the only source it ever comes from, Hashem. the growth of the crops during the previous six years has been caused by Hashem's good grace. The Jew is promised that if he so deserves, his produce in the sixth year will be sufficiently abundant to supply him in the seventh year as well. ...One who truly, truly believes in Hashem's control of the world will have no difficulty believing in Hashem's ability to provide him with sustenance." (Lilmod Ul'lamed, by Rabbi Mordechai Katz, Parshat Behar, pages 123-124)
Defense Minister Mofaz and the others in Ariel Sharon's "Disengagement Camp" would do well to heed these words.
Thus, parshiyot Behar and Bechukotai are read on the same Shabbos most years, because it seems that the two are connected; Bechukotai and the Tochochoh following enunciation of the laws regarding the Shemittah year and the Yovel (Jubilee) year.
There are sources, including the Gemora Shabbos (page 33, side 1), that connect non-observance of the Shemittah year with the hurban Beit HaMikdash HaRishon (the destruction of the first Temple). The Second Beit HaMikdash was built 70 years after the destruction of the first, seeming to coincide with the number of occasions in which the Shemittah cycle was not kept.
And so, inparshat Bechukotai, we read the portion of the Tochochoh, the admonishment, which is explicit as to the punishments that will befall B'nei Yisrael if they violate Hashem's Torah.
"I [Hashem], will set my face against you and you will be smitten before your enemies. They that hate you will rule over you." (Bechukotai, perek 26, posuk 17)
The point is that Hashem is strictest with and afflicts those whom he loves because he wants us to follow his laws -- his Torah -- because he seeks closeness with us and longs for our collective tefillot and unity.
A commentary from the book Lilmode Ul'lamed (page 126) is as follows:
"The text implies that... among the enemies will be those from Yisrael, enemies from within. These enemies say our rabbonim are the most vicious of adversaries. They are Jews who seem to deny their roots and not accept their Judaism. They are the most dangerous of all enemies. They are traitors against their own kind who know where their fellow men are the most vulnerable.
"It is tragic that often the worst enemy of the Jewish people and those most dangerous to Jews, are Jews themselves."
We observe how true these words are today, when the minds of the masses of Jews are inculcated and deceived by an enemy within, by the newspapers and electronic news media, with the myth of physical and intellectual prowess, national defeatism and of the "absence" of a Divine Being, for "how could the Holocaust have happened if there is a G-d?" They seem not to have emunah (faith) in Hashem and instead consider themselves mere "grasshoppers." In modern terms, they put their emunah in mortals -- in the prowess of man, in the super-power of the time .
The Shem Mishmuel speaks of this when discussing the significance of a posuk in Bechukotai:
"'I will remember my covenant Yaakov and also my covenant Yitzchak, and also my covenant Avraham I will remember, and I will remember the land.' (Bechukotai, Perek 26, posuk 42)
"Our verse describes the position of Klal Yisrael in exile, when their spiritual life is at its lowest ebb. In that situation, they feel depressed and uncertain of their role in the world. Their poor physical circumstances may induce a feeling of failure and hopelessness; they are so troubled by the pressures of life that they despair of the efficacy of their prayers and Torah study. Indeed, this happened to Klal Yisrael in Egypt: '...and they did not listen to Moshe due to shortness of spirit and the hard work.' (Va'era, Shemot, Perek 6, posuk 9)
"The work in Egypt was so backbreaking and their lives were so dreadful that they did not have the presence of mind to appreciate the message that Moshe was transmitting to them. So, too, in any exile experience, Klal Yisrael may reach a point of emotional hopelessness." (Shem Mishmuel, pages 288-289)
So the modern-day media spin doctors spin the false, worn out yarn about Gush Katif, about Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria) and demographics. And Defense Minister and self-proclaimed scholar Mofaz issues his false "p'sak Halacha" regarding Gaza and the Land of Israel as a rationale for abandonment. They sit together in the Cabinet room to make up their new "halacha" as they go along. They act like a few rocket scientists gathered together in one place creating new laws, in total disregard of and contradiction to Hashem and Torah, to sell Am Yisrael their ideas as being for our collective good. All the while, Am Yisrael is sinking in red-ink and tax burdens arising from the costs of "the Separation Wall", remittance to the Palestinian Authority of tax revenues, as well as giving them our electrical, telephone and natural resources.
Hashem needs to hear from us. He needs to hear the anguished cry of our "matzav", both personal and national. We need to cleave to Torah and Hashem, to rekindle our Jewish pride, Jewish self-esteem and self-image -- to be men, not grasshoppers. Hashem needs our physical actions and spirit to accompany our tefillah. And we must build on the momentum created by our victory in defeating the referendum.
A sefer Torah, currently being refurbished, will be placed upon its completion, i.y.H, in the town of Shirat HaYam in Gush Katif. As facilitator of its placement, I hope to honor our 8,000 Jewish brothers and sisters living in Gush Katif, who daily brave attacks, mortar shells, Kassam rockets, etc.
Just a bit about Shirat HaYam, It is a community by the sea with15 families, approximately 100 people. The men are talmidei chachamim, although there is no official community rabbis. They pray in an enlarged mobile home. I hope to go there for a Shabbos within the next couple of weeks to learn more about the place and its significance.
May we strive to perfect our internal and private middot and drachim: modesty; humility; and our other mitzvot; gemilut chasadim; tzedakah; total honesty; and ahavat chinom for our fellow Jews on all levels -- personal, business, learning, etc. As we say each night, when counting the Omer, "May it be your will, Hashem... that in the merit of the Omer count that I have counted today, may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused...." If we will care enough about our brother to help him and treat him, at all levels -- baderech, at business, at home -- as we would want to be treated ourselves, and if we finally recognize that the emet of the unity of B'nei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael overrides the various agendas, then Arafat, the Arabs, Dubya, Cheney, Zinni, Powell and Clinton are as nothing. Then we'll merit to demand, compel Hashem to do "what he wants to do, to bring us the Moshiach and the Ge'ula Shlaima, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayra v'yameinu -- speedily, in our time," like achshav -- immediately -- like chik-chak, miyad, etmol!